Gophers hockey plays host to its official home opener Friday at Mariucci Arena. Here are three things you should know:
1 In-state dominance is something Gophers junior forward Leon Bristedt has never experienced. The Gophers have a dismal 4-13 record against the state’s other Division I programs since the Swede arrived in Minnesota two-plus years ago.
The Gophers last beat an in-state opponent on Nov. 13, 2015, at Minnesota State Mankato and will try to end a five-game losing streak against Minnesota teams this weekend in a home-and-home series against No. 14 St. Cloud State. The No. 7 Gophers’ home opener kicks off the series Friday at 8 p.m., and the series ends in St. Cloud on Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
The Huskies swept the Gophers last season.
Despite his relatively recent introduction to the old rivalries, Bristedt is eager to change this negative trend.
“It’s a rivalry and that’s No. 1, which makes the game different. Also we know we’re playing a really good team, a good ranked team,” Bristedt said. “Since I got here, we’ve been up and down against St. Cloud, so I’m excited to get going.”
All five Minnesota Division I programs are ranked in the USCHO Top 20 this week for the first time in at least 10 years since the poll was expanded to include 20 teams. The Gophers missed the NCAA tournament last season because of their 6-11 nonconference record, with eight of those games against Minnesota schools.
“What we do in nonconference is important,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “We gave some games away nonconference that cost us come end of [last] year, and now we’re 2-0 in nonconference [this season] with 14 more to go.”
2 The Gophers have scored 21 goals in their first three games. Nine of those goals were against the U.S. U-18 national team in an exhibition game, but they scored six in each of their first two regular-season games in Alaska.
“The way we’re moving the puck to each other and getting more shots, that’s why we’re scoring a lot more,” senior forward Vinni Lettieri said. He had a goal and an assist in Alaska and had another assist in the exhibition game.
The Gophers scored just one goal through the first three games a year ago, and the slow start was an early sign of offensive issues the team would endure throughout the season.
“When you’re an offensive player, the sooner you can get that offensive goal, you’re just like, ‘Oh, I got that relief.’ … I think that takes the load off the mind,” Lucia said. “The more you can get on the board early, I think the better it is mentally for a player.”
3 Freshman forward Rem Pitlick led the Gophers with a hat trick and an assist in last weekend’s exhibition victory. He also had a goal and an assist in the opening weekend sweep in Alaska. His presence among the Gophers’ top nine forwards has helped fuel the hot start.
“He’s an elite player. I think he has a chance to be real special player,” Lucia said. “I think that’s infectious on everybody else. That’s been nice boost to our guys up front, even for us coaches; it just gives you more options for what you can do.”